By Antonio Guillen aka @HypeCaster
Are ‘Clickers’… Zombies? A little over ten years ago I had the pleasure of speaking with George A. Romero during a radio call in segment. Romero is considered by many to be the ‘Father of the Modern Zombie’. Previous films explored the concept of zombies, depicting them as entranced or reanimated dead, but starting with his 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, Romero introduced zombies as relentless flesh-eating harbingers of the apocalypse. His mix of social commentary, satire, and haunting gore laid the groundwork for modern horror and his take on the undead has inspired countless books, movies, TV shows, and of course- video games.
I used the opportunity to ask Mr. Romero two questions. Being a big fan, I asked what he thought of the 2002 film 28 Days Later and the concept of ‘Fast Zombies’. He pointed out that his ‘zombies’ were dead (and often decaying) corpses, making them inherently slow. He didn’t come off as overly territorial, but he hinted that if yo u changed the formula enough they were different creatures. I also asked what he thought about the video game Dead Rising (2006) since it was obviously heavily influenced by his 1979 film Dawn of the Dead. He said he had never heard of it. Oddly, the MKR group who produced the film would attempt (and fail) to sue Capcom over the similarities in 2008.
You can’t make a good ‘Top 5’ list without laying out the ground rules, so understand going in that I’m not a purist. While some might reserve the term ‘Zombie’ for creatures they believe meet a laundry list of requirements from movement speed and reanimation method to level of sentience; I apply the term loosely. Infected, Biters, Walkers, Roamers, Clickers, all games with ‘zombie-like’ or ‘zombie-inspired’ abboritions are eligible to compete here for the honor of Top 5 Zombie Games of all time.
I’m comparing games using a variety of measures, from cultural popularity to emotional impact, and considering them all at once, so much like survival horror things may get a bit messy. I’m also keeping game details spoiler-free so you’ll want to pick up and play anything you’ve missed.
5. Dead Rising – The rise of large zombie hordes
Xbox 360 (Original Release 2006). Wii (‘Chop Till You Drop’ remake 2009). Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (2016 HD Remaster)
Back of the Box
Dead Rising is an open world survival horror action game created and published by Capcom in 2006. It was remastered for the 10 year anniversary of the popular long running series in 2016. You play as Frank West, a photojournalist racing against time to uncover the mystery behind a zombie outbreak in Willamette, Colorado. You find yourself trapped inside a gigantic shopping mall with psychopaths and survivors in need.
- Dead Rising (Xbox 360, 2006) 85/100 on Metacritic
- #2 game in Gamesmaster’s Top 50 of 2006
- “Most Innovative Design for Xbox 360” 2006,IGN
- “Best Action Adventure Game” 2006, GameSpot
- “Game of the Year” 2006, Spike TV
- “Best Original Game” of 2006, X-Play
Why it’s great
Dead Rising is the pinnacle sand-box game. You’re not only given free-reign to explore a monolithic mega-mall, but you’re also encouraged to raid it’s numerous shops for makeshift tools and weapons. You’ll find conventional options in gun and hardware stores but they’ll break down quickly so you’ll have to make due with anything you can find- hilarity ensues.
You’ll clobber zombies with everything from store displays to park benches, and plow through mobs with shopping carts and lawn mowers. The Prestige Point system rewards you with upgrades if you capture snapshots of your hijinx. No game to date did a better job at exemplifying the importance of resourcefulness as a survival skill.
A few stumbling zombies may not be threatening when you have room to breathe, but the concept of struggling to outlast a zombie horde is key to the zombie experience. Dead Rising was one of the first games to push the limits in terms of the number of enemies shown on screen at once. Of course, modern titles feature exponentially larger swarms, but having around 800 enemies on screen at once was an achievement at the time and the Dead Rising series lead the way to zombie games giving the player the feeling that they were facing overwhelming odds.
As I mentioned, the game was heavily influenced by the Romero films and other works. In fact, the game itself is one giant spoof of zombie culture, making light of the absurdity of common zombie tropes and constantly nodding to movies and games that came before
4. Left 4 Dead – The ultimate 4-player cooperative zombie shooter
PC, Xbox 360 (2008) Mac OS X (2010)
Back of the Box
Left 4 Dead is a cooperative first-person shooter survival horror game developed by Valve South and published by Value (yes, Value used to make games). Set during the aftermath of a worldwide zombie apocalypse four survivors ban together to fight against hordes of the infected
- Left for Dead Xbox 360 89/100 Metacritic
- “Best Multiplayer Game” of 2008 by IGN, GameSpy, Spike TV, NoFrag, and BAFTA
- 2008 “Computer Game of the Year” AIAS, Spike TV, Bit-Tech
Why it’s awesome
Way back in 2008 Valve introduced us to Left 4 Dead, and it’s standout 4 player co-op mode that challenged you and three friends to run and gun your way through dark winding levels while swarms of relentless zombies sprinted in to tear you to pieces. It’s a simple premise for sure, but the experience was so expertly crafted and well designed in key areas that it’s many flaws melted away like the countless hours we spent playing it.
Looking back I’m surprised at the shallow weapon pool, weak AI teammates, and thin presentation. The entire campaign included only a handful of B-movie scenarios to play through, and even those were aesthetically basic. The sequel Left 4 Dead 2 brought some improvements in these areas but the original Left 4 Dead paved the way and should be commended. It’s exceptionally fun and frantic gameplay is so solid it holds up today, over a decade later.
The secret sauce that makes the game exceptional is the AI ‘Director’ that brilliantly determines when to slow enemies to a drip and when to ramp up the chaos. The game knows when you’re approaching a choke point and calculates when to give you helpful items and when to send ‘Special’ zombies in to try to pin you down to separate you from the rest of your group. This is how, even with so few levels, the game remains dynamic. Much like a sports title, no two playthroughs are the same.
The idea of a last bastion of survivors banding together to survive is a zombie stapel and nothing new, but Left 4 Dead takes that simple idea and introduces clever systems, finely tuned levels, and compelling gameplay that gamified teamwork. It remains, in my view, the ultimate 4-player cooperative zombie shooter.
3. Dying Light – Unmatched panic and fear
PC, Linux, PS4, Xbox One (2015) Mac OS X (2016)
Back of the Box
Dying Light is an open world first-person survival horror game developed by Techland and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. You play as Kyle Crane, an undercover agent sent to the quarantined city of Harran to track down a missing scientist. The base game is great on its own but Techland has continued to improve and support the game for years after launch offering DLC expansions, new vehicles, weapons, and game modes.
- Dying Light (PS4 Enhanced Edition) 86/100 on Metacritic
- In the first week after its release, 1.2 million people played Dying Light.
- The retail version debuted at No. 1 in the U.S. software sales chart in Feb 2015.
- Dying Light broke the record for the highest-selling first month of sales for a new survival horror intellectual property, breaking the record previously held by The Evil Within.
Why is it exceptional
Dying Light is the title I recommend most often to those looking for something fresh to play, mostly due to the fact that it’s an underrated gem. There’s so much it does right that I consider it the most well-rounded game to make this list. It offers engaging combat, a fun weapon crafting system, plenty of game changing upgrades, and a decent story. You haven’t lived until you’ve snapped a zombie’s knee back with a swift kick in this game.
Dying Light perfects the idea of the ‘monster closet’ and spawns enemies in a way that perfectly mimics the classic zombie ambush, you’ll constantly look down to loot for resources when the coast is clear only to rise to face a looming pack. You get a chance to live out those moments from The Walking Dead T.V. show where zombies seem to jump in from off-screen at just the right angle to catch a victim off guard.
Of course the parkour infused movement and refreshing verticality is another standout aspect of the game, but all of that takes a back seat to the implementation of the day/night cycle. During the day you’ll climb buildings and leap from rooftop to rooftop with ease. Stopping only to scavenge and battle with larger and more interesting enemies. If you manage your stamina well you can avoid, outrun, and even step on and over basic mobs.
When darkness creeps in the tables turn dramatically and you’ll have to sprint to a safe area or contend with hulking ‘Volatile’ zombies that hunt you with incredible speed. It’s tough not to panic mid-pursuit, knowing that one bad move or missed leap through the darkness leads to death. I’ve never been more scared in a zombie game and that fear fuels Dying Light’s accent to the number 3 spot.
2. Resident Evil 2 remake – Gore and decay brought to life.
PC, PS4, Xbox One (2019)
Back of the Box
Resident Evil 2 remake is a survival horror game developed and published by Capcom. You play as rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield as they fight to escape Racoon City during a zombie outbreak.
- Resident Evil 3 Remake (PS4) 89/100 Metacritic
- “Award for Excellence” 2019, Japan Game Awards
- “Best Audio” 2019, Golden Joystick Awards
- “Ultimate Game of the Year” 2019, Golden Joystick Awards
- “Freedom Tower Award for Best Remake” 2020, New York Game Awards
Why it’s fantastic
A flash of lighting reveals that you’re not alone in a hallway. As you raise your pistol your flashlight reveals pale dead eyes and an oozing bloody jaw. It groans and stumbles forward. You fire and your bullets strike, but don’t kill. You watch an arm slowly tear off and fall to the ground. It keeps coming. As it turns to face you again you notice an unnatural sway, it’s head is dangling, barely attached to the body. You are face to face with an undead (and hungry) decaying corpse. This is the zombie experience realized.
Resident Evil is unique in that its games have diverted from the franchise’s slower paced survival horror roots to action shooters and back again. To its credit, all that experimentation has led to not only some top-tier experiences, but also significant improvements in visual quality. Look at each title side by side and you’ll notice some graphical leaps.
If you want more evidence that Capcom feels that A/V is important to their experiences, they specifically built a new engine for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. This ‘RE Engine’ was used for Resident Evil 2 Remake and Devil May Cry V and Capcom has shared that numerous titles are currently in development using this new engine. Why? Because the RE Engine is absolutely fantastic. How!? I’m not sure. I turned to ResidentEvil.Fandom.com for an explanation of what cutting edge technology is at play.
“RE Engine includes a variety of new graphical and rendering techniques such as Subsurface Scattering (a shader method used to produce highly realistic human skin), Dynamic shadows, FXAA + TAA, Shadow cache, moreover, rendering techniques include the ability to output 4K Resolution, HDR, a VR specific mode, among others…Character costumes are crafted in real life then 3D scanned with the actor cast as the face model wearing it. RE Engine enabled the developers to have photorealistic rendering and realistic shading.”
To put it simply, Resident Evil 2 remake features photorealistic graphics and dynamic 3D sound that come together to create the ultimate survival horror atmosphere. Resident Evil 2 Remake had a lot going for it from the start, building a modern experience on a fan favorite foundation was a recipe for success. But the introduction of the RE Engine has elevated it higher than I ever thought was possible. It is a top-tier zombie game that brings gore and decay to life like never before.
1. The Last of Us – An intense story and brutal exploration of the post-apocalypse. PS3 (Original release 2013) PS4 (Remaster 2014)
Back of the Box
The Last of Us is an action adventure game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. You play as Joel, a smuggler who is tasked with escorting a teenage girl named Ellie across the post-apocalyptic United States.
- The Last of Us (PS3) 95/100 Metacritic
- “Game of the Year” 2013, Golden Joystick Awards
- “Best Playstation Game” 2013, Spive VGX
- “Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing” 2014 Writers Guild of America Awards
- “Game of the Year”“ 2014, D.I.C.E. Awards
- “Game of the Year” 2014, SXSW Gaming Awards
- “Best Game” 2014, British Academy Video Games Awards
- “Game of the Year” 2014, Game Developers Choice Awards
Why it’s the best: An intense story and brutal exploration of the post-apocalypse.
Notice that no other games on the list are known for their exemplary stories. The majority of zombie games usually skew toward either action or horror. The crux of The Last of Us on the other hand is its compelling narrative. The dark themes, relatable characters, and sickening brutality join together to form one of the most memorable gaming experiences ever created.
While most games let you witness and fight through an ongoing zombie outbreak The Last of Us is truly post-apocalyptic and places you deep in the aftermath. A global infection has taken its toll. Society is in shambles. The story is about those that remain. The harsh reality of what it takes to survive in a fallen world has, over-time, blended into their daily routine. Those that remember life before are tormented with that knowledge, others can barely imagine anything different.
Like most aspects of The Last of Us, the game’s take on ‘zombies’ is incredibly grounded, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a real-life fungal parasite that infects carpenter ants. It cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain, releasing chemicals that force the muscles to contract. A bulbous stalk breaks through the ant’s body and releases infectious spores into the air.
In the Last of Us humanity is exposed to a mutated strain of this fungus. Those Infected slowly suffer. Gradually losing their mind and becoming more aggressive. The infection manifests outward, warping them into grotesque monsters on the outside while the host remains trapped within. This infection is as disturbing as it is plausible, and that level of authenticity throughout the game is part of what makes it memorable.
Playstation’s trademark this generation has been to blow gamers away with characters that look, sound, and feel breathtakingly real. They’ve accomplished this via the hard work of immensely talented people and a combination of great graphic engines, mo-cap, voice-acting, authentic dialogue, and engaging stories. That’s why gamers feel invested in Joel and Ellie’s journey, and why seven years after the game’s release we are all excited to spend more time with them in the upcoming sequel.
The Last of Us explores the idea of the post-apocalypse on a deeper level than most games ever do. It forces us to examine ourselves and ask hard questions. If the world as you knew it collapsed…how would you respond? Would you be able to cope with the pain and trauma? could you ever heal and recover? What would you be prepared to do…to survive? What would you do…or say…. to protect those you love? What would you be willing to sacrifice? If you were one of the last left standing would kind of world would be left around you? The Last of Us is a work of art, and the best zombie game of all time.